climate change

The lottery of good men

Mika Ortega
If we allowed ourselves to surrender to the futility of our screams, then we would, in effect, subscribe to the selfsame senseless culture that murdered my father


“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.”  – Shirley Jackson, The Lottery

In 1948, Shirley Jackson wrote a short story entitled “The Lottery” which tells of a gripping and horrific tale of townspeople gathering each year for a lottery whose unlucky winner is stoned to death. Jackson sets up the irony by creating a setting of a perfect summer day with kids running around laughing. There is great anticipation as the crowd assembles. If not for the shocking conclusion, you’d think she was introducing a town festivity.

What truly makes the story appalling, however, is not the eventual act of murder but how the townspeople readily accepted this tradition. It didn’t really matter when it started or why. In fact, much of the original rituals were forgotten. What mattered was that they carried out this tradition that has “always” been there.

When finally they found their “winner,” in the person of Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson, we find no indication of remorse or hesitation from either her friends or her own children as they close in on her. Sealing the disparity of the act to the mood, Jackson even shows us how the townspeople seemed more concerned about getting on with their schedules thus prompting them to “…finish quickly.”   

Sadly, much like in Jackson’s imagined world, most of us find ourselves apathetic to the terrible atrocities in our own society. As long as tragedies didn’t strike home, we manage to get on with our schedules without a kink. But whether conscious or unconscious, we subscribe to some traditions that seem to have always been there.

I am the eldest daughter of number 142. This number is dehumanizing not only because of the absence of a face and a name but more so because it means 141 people were murdered before my father.

At least 150 journalists have been murdered since 1986, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. But the killings didn’t start 26 years ago. It was only then that we decided to start counting.

Truth is, 150 is too small a number in relation to the hundreds, even thousands, of cases of extrajudicial killings as claimed by human rights organizations.

A tradition of killings?

It would seem then that the culture of impunity has “always” been there.

If impunity is the culture, then what are the traditions within that culture? I would assume that extrajudicial killing is a tradition. The absence of convicted masterminds is another tradition.

These traditions only perpetuate the culture. And although many of us condemn these acts, others still condone them as merely normal trade in this country.

In a way, like Mrs. Hutchinson when she realized she had fallen victim to the mindless lottery, my family screamed desperately.

But the futility of our screams came to us soon enough. In fact, one of the first honest questions I asked myself — after it dawned upon me that we would run after murderers — was: Why would anyone even listen to us? Why should they? When every day, a new kind of suffering arises? When there’s always going to be a deadlier storm, a more horrific crime, a more popular scandal?
I imagine that if you step back from the disarray to listen, all you will hear is a chorus of incongruous shouting. My family’s cry for help is ultimately lost with all the cries and screams of desperation.

Nobody can hear us anymore. We can barely hear ourselves. There are far too many of us and more keep joining our ranks each day. This shouting and screaming is what the culture of impunity sounds like.
Along the way though, I was made to realize that the multitude of those in pain does not and should not diminish the value of our plight.

We are still worth fighting for. We still have a legitimate cause.  If we allowed ourselves to surrender to the futility of our screams, then we would, in effect, subscribe to the selfsame senseless culture that murdered my father.

Our fight

So in our grief, we were compelled to fight. And fight we did.

But, like Jackson’s world, my family didn’t only have to face the indifferent bystanders but also the avid safeguards of the dominant culture. And I’m not just referring to Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda’s apparently obdurate statement pertaining to the delay of the arrest.

I’m referring to how some of Palawan’s political figures seemed to have created sandbags around the alleged mastermind of my father’s murder, Palawan ex-governor Joel Reyes.

Who are these political figures?

There’s Provincial Board Member Rolando “Boy” Bonoan Jr., who — from the moment Joel Reyes’s name was linked until after he was considered a fugitive — acts as the ex-governor’s spokesperson.

There is the ex-governor’s wife, Clara “Fems” Reyes, who also happens to be the vice governor. Perhaps her wifely duties simply got in the way of public service.

Lastly, there’s Gov Abraham Kahlil “Baham” Mitra, who defended the ex-governor in speeches and in an affidavit, after the Department of Justice found probable cause, and ordered masses to be held as a showcase of the capitol’s solidarity with the accused ex-governor.

I am not familiar with legal jargon but this strikes me as highly unethical and unbecoming of elected public servants.

Aren’t they mandated by their positions to implement the law regardless of how it may affect their friends? Isn’t the very essence of corruption the use of one’s entrusted power for the benefit of one’s own or one’s loved ones?

Is this what we celebrate as our yearly tradition? Is this what we go to town squares for?

Steep climb

What makes our fight for justice a very steep climb is the reality that there is not only the absence of change but the presence of a force to keep things the way they are, the way they have always been.

These are the two basic premises to a very simple syllogism.

In the end, all that we need to keep the culture of impunity is to not care and watch idly by as our own government guarantees the safety of masterminds. Conversely, the only way to rid ourselves of this culture is by shouting with the victims and putting wanted fugitives, like Reyes and Palparan, behind bars.

The culture of impunity is our very own version of Jackson’s lottery.

The only real difference is that in Jackson’s world, everybody can be chosen, anybody can be stoned to death. Whether the postmaster or the housewife, whether an elderly individual or a toddler, as long as you draw a slip of paper with a black dot on it, your fate is sealed.

In the Philippines, however, many are exempted from the lottery.

The pre-audition only qualifies the brave, the honest and the loving. In short, only the good men. –

(The author is the daughter of slain radio commentator, environmentalist and anti-corruption advocate Dr Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega. She’s 23 and finished AB Humanities at the Ateneo de Manila University. She is now the chairperson of the Justice for Doc Gerry Ortega Movement.)

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